Paul Lee (left) proved he belonged on the biggest of stages, extending his chip lead as the WPT Final Table was set. 2001 WSOP Main Event Champion Juan Carlos Mortensen sits in 2nd chip position, the major roadblock in Lee's way to the $3,970,415 check for first.
The twenty-seven men who started play Thursday were a diverse group, from proven poker champions to young internet upstarts to long-time grinders. To get to the Final Table meant playing great, catching cards at the right time, and navigating the waters of horrific beats and bad reads.
Adeeb Harb took his second consecutive Bellagio Five Star $5k event last week, adding $501k to last year's $380k. He'd put his free seat to good use in the WPT Championship as he sat poised for a deep run. On a flop of , he sat all-in when Paul Lee called with . Harb showed and looked ready to jump into the top five in chips. The on the turn jerked the lead to Lee as the four-outer brought an untimely exit to Addeb Harb (25th, $92,820).
At Table 62, Kirk Morrison was the action man as the table chip leader. He pushed 400k to Phil Hellmuth in a big pot early, then turned his sights on Paul Wasicka. Wasicka was very short stacked and moved all-in with his last 130k and . Morrison called with and flopped a king to knock Wasicka out (24th, $92,820).
Juan Carlos Mortensen is a fearsome player when he accumulates chips late in tournaments with good reason. The final table at his Main Event title was arguably the toughest ever assembled at a Main Event, including Phil Hellmuth, Phil Gordon, Mike Matusow, and runner-up Dewey Tomko. The quiet Mortensen has an unparalleled intensity combined with a fearlessness to act at any point, a brutal late tournament combination.
Mortensen called David Baker's 581k all-in raise into a 300k pot with a flop of . He needed help with while Baker showed . brought no help on the turn, but Mortensen rivered his two pair with to take out David Baker (23rd, $92,820).
With the pot, he sat on 3.9M in chips and was equipped to make a deep run.
Back at Table 62, Morrison brought on the full wrath of Hellmuth with a big pot. Morrison raised to 75k and Hellmuth called before the flop of . Morrison bet 150k and Hellmuth called. The turn brought , and Morrison checked. Hellmuth bet 150k, and Morrison called. on the river brought a 225k bet from Morrison, and Hellmuth called instantly. Morrison flipped over for the nut flush, and the fireworks started when Hellmuth showed .
The two shoved pots back and forth as Hellmuth played more pots than is typical of him. Hellmuth had to feel he was setting Morrison up for a big score, but after Guy Laliberte eliminated Loi Phan (19th, $123,760), the two were separated when the final two tables were redrawn.
Seat 1 - Grant Lang
Seat 2 - Tim Phan
Seat 3 - Phil Hellmuth
Seat 4- David Levi
Seat 5 - Jake Minter
Seat 6 - Thomas Wahlroos
Seat 7 - Paul Lee
Seat 8 - James Worth
Seat 9 - Can Kim Hua
Seat 1 - Guy Laliberte
Seat 2 - Tommy Vu
Seat 3 - Sorel Mizzi
Seat 4 - Mike Wattel
Seat 5 - Carlos Mortensen
Seat 6 - Richard Anthony
Seat 7 - Scott Fischman
Seat 8 - Tommy Vu
Seat 9 - Kirk Morrison
Hellmuth's new tablemates didn't have to listen to him very long. He raised to 90k, and Thomas Wahlroos made it 230k total. Hellmuth called the raise then checked in the dark with , and the baby flop came . Wahlroos bet 300k, and Hellmuth moved all-in for 1M. He was instantly called by Wahlroos, and his jacks were now up against two red aces. No help came from the dealer, and Phil Hellmuth left the Fontana Lounge in 18th ($123,760).
Scott Fischman rivered a jack with to eliminate Richard Anthony's pocket tens (17th, $123,760). Better pairs became the norm to exit players as Tim Phan's pocket tens were good against James "KrazyKanuck" Worth's pocket eights (16th, $123,760), followed by Juan Carlos Mortensen's kings besting Sorel "Imper1um" Mizzi's jacks (15th, $154,705).
Thomas Woolroos used pocket tens to send short-stacked Jake Minter out in 14th ($154,705). Tim Phan took another short stack out, David Levi (13th, $154,705), but the next player out left in the toughest of fashions.
CK Hua moved all-in on a flop of , and Tim Phan called with a draw holding . Hua had flopped a straight with , but sometimes the nuts isn't good enough. on the turn sent a groan through the table that reverberated throughout the Fontana Lounge like the wave, and Phan's better straight held up. For CK Hua (12th, $154,705), it was his best cash in the twelve months. With the big prize money ahead, it was a brutal exit.
Tim Phan used to pick off Grant Lang's steal attempt with , and Lang's exit (11th, $154,705) brought the Fontana Lounge down to a single table.
Seat 1 Kirk Morrison (1.78M)
Seat 2 Jimmy Tran (1.27M)
Seat 3 Thomas Wahlroos (7.19M)
Seat 4 Guy Laliberte (3.40M)
Seat 5 Carlos Mortensen (3.39M)
Seat 6 Mike Wattel (1.43M)
Seat 7 Scott Fischman (1.27M)
Seat 8 Paul Lee (8.99M)
Seat 9 Tommy Vu (1.09M)
Seat 10 Tim Phan (2.36M)
Blinds were 30k/60k with a 5k ante, so each pot ten-handed started with 140k. That left plenty of play as they started the last table shortly before 6:00.
The first sizeable pot came when Mortensen (left), first to act, raised to 200k, and Laliberte and Wahlroos called from the blinds. The flop came , and the blinds checked to the raiser. Mortensen led out with 500k, and Wahlroos moved all-in with his monster stack. Laliberte folded, and a diamond could take out Mortensen as he showed . Wahlroos had , but the flush draw became moot as Mortensen filled up with on the turn. Wahlroos dropped to 4.3M, and Mortensen jumped into second place in chips with 6.1M.
Jimmy Tran was the first to leave the group of ten at the hands of a two-outer by Paul Lee. Lee raised to 500k, and Tran raised another 260k with . Tran showed , and Presto!, he spiked a set with a flop of . Tran received no help, and he was out in 10th ($185,645).
The last few hands of the level brought survival to Scott Fischman and a massive pot to Juan Carlos Mortensen. First, Mortensen raised to 125k and Fischman called. The flop came , and Fischman bet 130k. Mortensen raised to 500k, and Fischman shoved for 1.245M. After several minutes, Mortensen decided to hold onto his chips and mucked. He didn't wait long to put them to work.
Paul Lee raised to 200k, and Mortensen called from the big blind. brought checks from both players, and Mortensen checked again when the turn came . Lee bet 400k, and Mortensen called. came on the river, and again Mortensen checked. Lee bet 1M, and Mortensen min-raised to make it 2M. Lee asked for a count, looked at his own 10.2M in chips, and folded. Mortensen now sat on 6.2M in chips.
Blinds increased to 40k/80k with a 10k ante, and the short stacks were Mike Wattel and Tommy Vu with around 1M each. Wattel tripled up after he moved all-in on a flop of and was called by Wahlroos with pocket tens and Mortensen with pocket sevens. Both players checked it down when came, but Wattel showed pocket kings for the pot.
Tommy Vu made a move at the pot with his last 623k, and Mortensen called him with . The former infomercial star needed a lot of help with his , but he didn't connect and was out in 9th ($216,585).
Kirk Morrison (right) thought his patience would be rewarded when he flopped a set of eights against Guy Laliberte's nut flush draw with . The board made a straight with , and the pot was chopped. Morrison would do better a few hands later.
Lee raised to 200k, and Morrison and Mortensen called. flopped, and Mortensen checked to Lee who bet 300k. Both players called, and brought another check from Mortensen. Lee bet 1M into the 1.6M pot, and Morrison called with his last 728k. Mortensen called also for a 544k side pot. came on the river, and both players checked. Mortensen took the side pot with for a set vs. Lee's pocket queens, but Morrison's gave him the 3.9M main pot with a flopped flush.
Thomas Wahlroos with and cracked Scott Fischman's red aces when came on the board to double up shortly before blinds were raised to 60k/120k with a 15k ante. Action heated up as Tim Phan doubled through Mike Wattel, then Wattel did the same through Scott Fischman as did Morrison through Paul Lee.
The near misses ended when Morrison raised to 410k and Fischman moved all-in for another 1.02M.
Fischman sensed weakness, but Morrison must have put him on two big cards and called with . Fischman was dominated with and was toast (8th, $247,525).
Blinds increased to 80k/160k with a 15k ante, and they played only a few hands to lose the TV bubble boy. Mike Wattel raised to 420k, and Lee called. Thomas Wahlroos then moved all-in for 4.35M from the big blind, and Lee called after Wattel mucked his hand. Wahlroos hated the call with his , and Lee showed him . It wouldn't be poker without a flop of for the flush draw for Wahlroos, but the last cards were red . Thomas Wahlroos finished 7th ($278,465), and the WPT Championship final table was complete.
Friday at 5:00PM, these six players will reconvene on the WPT set:
Seat 1 Kirk Morrison (4.194M) from Topeka, Kansas and New Zealand. Morrison took his WSOP bracelet in 1998's Seven Card Stud event. He has two other WSOP cashes along with four WPT checks, and this will be his biggest result of his career.
Seat 2 Guy Laliberte (4.690M, left) from Beverly Hills Laliberte has never cashed in a live tournament before. He won a seat in last year's WPT Championship but fell short. He repeated that result last week, and he's now at his first Final Table.
Seat 3 Juan Carlos Mortensen (6.501M) from Las Vegas, Madrid, and Ecuador Mortensen has won countless tournaments all over the world, including the 2001 WSOP Main Event, the 2003 WSOP $5k NLHE, and the 2004 WPT Doyle Brunson North American Championship here at the Bellagio.
Seat 4 Mike Wattel (2.587M) from Phoenix. Wattel has thirteen WSOP cashes, including a bracelet for his 1999 Omaha 8 or Better title. He's guaranteed to grab his biggest cash Friday.
Seat 5 Paul Lee (11.828M) from Los Angeles. Lee has 69 cashes in small buy-in tournaments, predominantly in LA. His Event #2 victory here was the biggest cash in his career, and he's now guaranteed to top that result.
Seat 6 Thien "Tim" Phan (2.162M) from Westminster, California. Phan has four WSOP cashes including $304k for 24th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event. He also four WPT cashes including $292k for 4th at the 2005 WPT Legends of Poker at the Bike.
Photos from PokerNews and Craig Cunningham.